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Impressions of Burma itinerary

 

Day 1: Yangon
Min Gala Ba! Welcome to Burma (Myanmar).

Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting in the evening of Day 1.

You can arrive at any time during the day as there are no activities planned until this important meeting; please check with the hotel reception where and when it will take place, or check the reception notice boards. If you can't arrange a flight that will have you arrive at the hotel by early evening, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.

Formerly named Rangoon, Yangon is the country's biggest city and was the capital from 1885, when the British conquered the north and the kingdom of Mandalay, until just a few years ago when the government moved the capital to Naypyidaw.

To get your bearings and a taste of this wonderful city, take a walk to Sule Paya, then perhaps down to the Victorian Strand Hotel to admire both the colonial architecture and the bargaining madness of Bogyoke Market. Or sample some of the great Indian food on offer.

Day 2: Yangon/Mandalay

This morning we set off for one of the great sites of Rangoon, indeed Burma, if not the world! The extraordinary Shwedagon Pagoda and its surrounding temples and edifices dominate all and provide an extraordinary mix of monks and pilgrims and worshippers and tourists. We will spend some time walking around the complex, learning of its history and spiritual devotions, and experiencing the ambience of this extraordinary place.

We then leave mid-morning for the airport (seeing a bit more of Rangoon along the way). At the airport your tour leader will coordinate the check-in for your flight to Mandalay, using a private airline. Flight time is usually a little over an hour and after landing it is a drive of about 45 minutes to the city and your hotel for the next three nights. The rest of the afternoon is free – you might enjoy a walk to one of the markets, where a great time can be had enjoying the hustle and bustle, taking photos or bargaining for local wares.

 

Day 3: Mandalay

We make our way down to the city’s lively waterfront which offers an interesting backdrop as we take a boat trip up-river to Mingun - the site of the world's largest pagoda (albeit unfinished!), the world’s largest unbroken bell, and temples dating back hundreds if not thousands of years. The river is effectively a major trading, communication and commuting highway and a wide range of different boats, barges and steamers can be viewed along the way. We return to Mandalay late morning: this city was a former capital of Burma; however the surrounding countryside contains many towns that could lay claim to that same title at some stage or another in the past. Later in the afternoon we embark on a tour visiting the remnants of one of these once-great cities, Amarapura. Weather permitting, we may also view a spectacular sunset over the 200-year-old, two-kilometre-long, U Bein wooden bridge, either from land or by boat.

This evening you may wish to dine at your hotel, or your tour leader will be able to recommend any one of a number of good local restaurants: the choice of meals and good places to eat is extensive throughout this trip.

 

Day 4: Maymyo (Pyin U Lwin)/Mandalay

After a drive up into the hills, Burma's most famous hill station, Maymyo (Pyin U Lwin), provides an escape from the heat of the plains. Established during the colonial era back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it is today a crossroad for traders coming over from China and this is reflected in its colourful market.

Take time to explore surroundings in a local horse-drawn carriage called a 'myin-lay'. English-style country mansions and Chinese temples dot the hillsides in a place rightly called the 'vegetable garden' of Burma. Later, we return to Mandalay where the rest of the day is spent visiting various temples, including Kuthodaw Pagoda that claims to house the world's largest 'book'.

Time permitting, it was once a challenging walk up Mandalay Hill (236 metres), but these days, if in operation, a series of large escalators will do most of the work for you on the way up!! If conditions oblige, the sunset views from the summit can be impressive and along the way there are many shrines of religious significance.

 

Day 5 & 6: Bagan

We depart early from our hotel for the waterfront to spend to an entire day on a ferry boat as we cruise down the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River.

Note: (Due to the unpredictable nature of water levels and ferry operations on the Irrawaddy River between February and May, it is possible that some services may be cancelled during that period. Some of these cancellations may take place at the last minute and often without warning. If this is the case it may be necessary to fly between Mandalay and Bagan. There will be no extra cost for this flight).

Along the way, we witness the idyllic way of life that epitomises parts of rural Burma in the form of the small fishing villages that lie along the riverbanks. And we pass dozens of boats of different size and utility, testament to the role which this mighty river plays in the life of so many.

There is a restaurant on board our ferry, and meals and drinks are readily available for purchase during the day. In the evening we arrive in Pagan (Bagan), one of the most impressive archaeological wonders of Asia, and are met and driven to our hotel. (Due to the unpredictable nature of water levels and ferry operations on the Irrawaddy River between February and May, it is possible that some services may be cancelled during that period. Some of these cancellations may take place at the last minute and often without warning. If this is the case it may be necessary to fly between Mandalay and Bagan. There will be no extra cost for this flight).

The sights of Bagan are explored from dawn to dusk. Nyaung U's lively market contrasts with the eerie silence of the plains littered with over 4000 structures, including Gawdawpalin, Thatbyinnyu, Ananda and Shwezigon - all names of temples and pagodas that bear testament to a glorious past. The area is also famous for producing lacquer-ware and sand-paintings that is available in the stalls amidst the ruins.

There is also a chance to do some of our exploration by horse and cart. Weather permitting, we may enjoy a breath-taking sunset view from one of the ruins.

 

Day 7: Day trip to Mt Popa/Bagan

Today we drive for an hour before arriving at Mount Popa, an extinct volcano that is home to the local spirits or deities known as 'nats'. For the energetic, there is a chance to climb the 777 steps to the shrine at the top of the hill. Returning to Pagan, we visit a local village to observe the lifestyle of the people and talk with some of the villagers. The afternoon is free to further explore this amazing area. You may hire a bicycle or take a horse carriage and enjoy your own exploration of the archaeological sites. This evening we return to Bagan for our last night.

 

Day 8: Flight to Heho, Inle Lake

We board a plane and fly to Heho, which is situated in the Shan Plateau. From here, we drive through picturesque countryside and rolling hills to our final destination, Khaungdaing, situated on Inle Lake not far from the main township, Nyaungshwe. This afternoon you may like to rent a canoe (for about one hour) and row in to Lin Kin village, famous for its floating garden in the lake. On our way back we may stop over at some of the village houses to see the process of making traditional snacks (optional and at extra cost). You will notice that the weather is rather cooler due to the high altitude.
 

Day 9: Inle Lake Boat Trip
A full day is spent on the lake exploring the floating gardens and catching a glimpse of the local Intha fishermen who are famous for their unique 'leg-rowing' technique. These people are different from the Shans and they originate from the south of the country. The lake is also home to a wide array of bird-life including egrets, cranes, ducks, storks and birds of prey. Visits may be made to some of the local villages and our stay may coincide with one of the market days: always exciting with much of the commuting being done by local people using the ubiquitous long-tail boats.
 

Day 10: Short Trek
After breakfast at our hotel we transfer to Indein ruins complex (about 45 minutes by long-tail boat). On disembarking we find a pagoda and stupas built in the 8th century. We can also enjoy browsing through the rows of shops along the corridor uphill or just marvel at the surroundings. After spending some time we will start our walk towards to Yankin, Pa O and Taung Yoe tribe village (1.5 km, approx 45 minutes).

Along the way we explore the mystery of more than 300 ancient stupas around the village and then continue towards (1 km, approx 30 minutes) to a Buddhist monastery and head north to Naydaw (1.5 km, approx 45 minutes) to Taung Yoe ethnic tribe village through farm land and bamboo forest. From here turn to South-West (5 km, approx 3 hours) through the valley ups and downs to west Taung Mauk, Pa O village from here another 20 minute walk would get you to east Taung Mauk village. Finally we turn east through valley to Indein (3 km, approx 45 minutes) where we will meet our boat and return back to hotel. This evening we enjoy a traditional Shan dinner and get to sample some of the local style culinary specialties.

Note: the amount of walking advisable today will depend on individual and group fitness and wishes, and also the time of year.
 

Day 11: Fly to Yangon, Kyaikhtiyo (Golden Rock)
We transfer to Heho Airport for the flight back to Rangoon in the morning, on arrival you will be met and drive for the 5 hour (approx.) transfer to Kyaikthiyo. One of Myanmar’s major landmarks, famous for its precarious position and religious importance, Kyaikthiyo the “Golden Rock” is a huge boulder completely covered by gold leaf and delicately balanced on the edge of a cliff.

We arrive at the base camp of Kinpun and continue up to the Golden Rock by open truck, about an hour’s mountain drive. A further light trek to the summit we will have time to have enjoy the sunset from the top of the hill. Descending back down, we spend the night at our hotel in Kyaikhtiyo.

 

Day 12: Yangon
After breakfast this morning, we walk for 30mins to reach Kyee Kan Pa Sat (Crow's mouth Cave); an important place of worship for the local people. On the way we will pass by some local handicraft stalls selling local produce.

Midmorning we will return Yangon via Bago through rice fields and small towns. When we arrive in Bago we will visit the local market, Kanbawza Thardi Palace built by King Bayinnaung, the Kalayani Sima (Ordination Hall), Shwemawdaw Pagoda, and Shwethalyaung Pagoda - home to what many say is the world’s most beautiful reclining Buddha. We then return to Yangon.

The rest of the afternoon is free in Rangoon and you can visit Sule Pagoda, which marks the centre of town and the nearby Bogyoke (Scott) Market that sells a wide array of local goods and handicrafts. There is also time explore a fascinating city full of dilapidated colonial edifices, to perhaps take High Tea at the historic colonial hotel, The Strand, and take a stroll through vibrant Chinatown market area as the afternoon cools (these are optional excursions and at your own expense).

 

Day 13: Yangon
The tour ends after breakfast, and you are free to depart at any time, or spend longer in Yangon at your own expense.

 

Please note: One of the main things about the trips that I run is flexibility.This is especially needed in Burma, where flights and sometimes even hotel arrangements can change at short notice. We will do our best to achieve everything on the itinerary, but it is important to realise that mass travel in Burma is in its infancy and so changes can occur.

Printable version of itinerary

Land arrangements are sub-contracted to Intrepid Travel, who have many years experience in running small group adventures.

Bookings are made through the Intrepid Private Groups in the UK not the Intrepid website or Stores. Use this link for more information

Included in the trip price

9 nights hotel or riad accommodation

1 night in desert camp

• 1 night in guesthouse

• 8 breakfasts

2 dinners

All transport as per itinerary

• Todra Gorge 4WD safari

• Camel ride to desert camp

Walking tour of Marrakech

Taxi to main square & dinner

Transport to Majorelle Gardens

Majorelle Gardens entrance

Cooking class, Ait Benhaddou

• Essaouria walking tour

• Pre-trip Facebook group

• Experienced Intrepid leader

Expert photographic tuition

Impressions of Morocco itinerary

 

Day 1: Travel day/Arrival in Ouarzazate
Salaam Aleikum! Welcome to Morocco.

Our adventure officially starts in the desert town of Ouarzazate. but the official group flight is the Easyjet flight to Marrakech from London Gatwick, which arrives on the morning of the 12 April. We will be met from the airport, and transferred to Ouarzazate by private bus. The cost for this has been built into the airfare if bought from Intrepid (which is currently a shade under 260 including booking fee, transfer and baggage costs). If buying separately transfer cost will be 15.

Our drive takes us across the atmospheric 2260 metre Tizi n'Tichka Pass, and through some stunning scenery.

Hotel: 1 night, breakfast included

Day 2: Erg Chebbi

Welcome meeting in the hotel reception at 9 am. This morning you will explore the town of Ouarzazate and visit the hundred year old Taourirt Kasbah. A potent symbol of the Glaoui clan’s power, the kasbah gives a glimpse of how these feudal lords lived. You will then have the chance to buy an essential piece of desert kit – a shesh. This is a long piece of cloth a bit like a scarf that is wrapped around the head to keep the sun off and the loose end can be pulled across the face to keep out the sand.

Take a stunning drive towards the mighty Sahara Desert (approx 7hrs). We have many opportunities to stop and admire and take photos of the panoramic views of the Kasbahs and palmeries (valleys lush with date palms, fields and orchards) en route, since we have the convenience of our own private minivan (there are not many options for public transport in these parts). We can pause in some of the frontier towns such as Erfoud and Rissani before we reach the end of the road and the small Saharan settlement of Merzouga.

We'll store our main baggage before saddling up our day packs and mounting camels to head off into the sunset for a memorable night in our Sahara camp (approx 1 hour each way).

The Erg Chebbi dunes are the most stunning in the country and an experience essential of any visit to Morocco. An erg is a vast sea of shifting wind-swept sand that's formed into picturesque undulating crests and valleys, and the Erg Chebbi is one of the world's classic landscapes of towering dunes, up to heights of over 150 metres. Located at the end of the sealed road and just 20 kilometres from the Algerian border this is wonderful frontier country.

The camp is a simple affair with bedding and basic toilet facilities provided. Our local friends will prepare a hearty feast so all you need to do is soak up the experience. Our camp does provide blankets which are sufficient for most travellers between April and October.

In the night we will have our first chance to photograph star trails, at our desert camp.

Optional lunch in Tinghir.

Included Activities

• Camel ride in desert

• Dinner at camp

• 4WD to camp

Accommodation: Desert camp (1 night) No single supplement is available for this night stop

 

Day 3: Dades Gorge

For the early risers the morning begins with a sunrise over the majestic dunes before breakfast. It's another classic drive with dramatic changes of landscape to Dades Gorge (approx 4 hrs).

Stop en route in a small town called Tinejdad (approx 2 hrs from the desert) and where we have the option to visit the interesting Museum El Khorbat, which has a great collection of rural and historical Berber artefacts, clothing, jewellery and tools. It's housed in three restored homes of a Ksar and provides a wealth of information about Berber people living in the area.

After lunch, we head to our hotel in the Dades area that has a very pleasant pool. After two long driving days the group can relax and take the afternoon off.

Flanked on both sides by high limestone cliffs, Dades Valley features bizarre rock formations with picturesque kasbahs dotted amongst the crops and palms.

Accommodation: Hotel (2 nights)

 

Day 4: 4WD safari to Todra Gorge

After two long driving days we have a day with very little driving as we stay local and explore the equally spectacular Dades Gorge. We travel by 4 wheel drive on this excursion (please note that if conditions are very wet it is too dangerous due to flash flooding, if this is the case we will use the main highway instead.

Todra Gorge is a spectacular canyon with sheer rock walls up to 300 m high, now gaining fame as a rock-climbing destination. We plan to have a meal in a guesthouse in Todra, and also have the time to explore the Palmeries in the verdant lower gorge, before returning to our hotel in the Dades Gorge for the night.

 

Day 5: Ait Benhaddhou

Say goodbye to the Gorges region and travel further south towards Ait Benhaddou (approx 3 hrs). This scenic drive offers a glimpse of times gone by via the ruins of ancient kasbahs, former colonial military outposts, austere mountains, wide-open spaces, and valleys of palm trees and irrigated fields. En route we can pause for lunch in Ouarzazate.

The film capital of Morocco, Ouarzazate is the location where productions such as Lawrence of Arabia, The Sheltering Sky and Black Hawk Down were filmed.

Time permitting, you can take an optional tour of the Atlas Movie Studios.

We also have the chance to make a short visit to Project Handicapped Horizon, an organisation dedicated to the rehabilitation, health and empowerment of people with disabilities. Some of the amazing services they provide include the building and fitting of prosthetic limbs, custom-made wheelchairs, and physio and social therapy for sufferers of accidents and illness. They also operate an artisans workshop which trains local people in trades such as pottery, weaving, metal work and jewellery making. This is a wonderful visit and we're very proud to support this project through The Intrepid Foundation.

Centuries ago, Ait Benhaddou was an important stop for the caravans passing through as they carried salt across the Sahara, returning with gold, ivory and slaves. Today, its grand kasbah is still one of the most beautiful in all of Morocco and a World Heritage site. This fortified village is a fine example of clay architecture and is also famous for its role on the silver screen, featuring in numerous films such as Lawrence of Arabia, The Jewel of the Nile and Gladiator.

This evening will be our second chance to practice shooting star-trails - from the roof of our guesthouse!

Included Activities

• Cooking class and dinner

Accommodation: Guesthouse (1 night) No single supplement is available for this night stop

 

Day 6: Taroudant

Rejoin our minivan and continue towards Taroudant (approx 5 hrs). This drive takes us through more superb desert scenery and along a route that's a reserve for the indigenous argan trees - if we're lucky we might come across the famous image of goats climbing these trees in search of their tasty nuts.

Please note that this is a long travel day and we won't arrive at our accommodation until late afternoon/early evening. Our riad is centrally located which will allow us to walk around the atmospheric main square of the town, which comes along as the heat of the sun starts to fade away.

Accommodation: Central Riad (1 night)

 

Day 7: Drive to Essaouria

In the morning we will have time to explore Taroudant before continuing on to Essaouira on the coast. Taroudant is a vibrant market town located in the fertile Souss plains. With an energetic, bustling city centre this is a great opportunity to see an untouched traditional Berber lifestyle. The souqs of the medina teem with sights, sound and colour, with terrific bargains to be found.

We leave the valleys of the magical High Atlas Mountains behind and head towards the windswept Atlantic Coast and Essaouira (approx 4.5 hrs), we will use the coastal road with a brief stop in Agadir en-route.

Accommodation: Central riad (2 nights)


Day 8: Essaouria

The name Essaouira means image, which is appropriate since it's such a picturesque town. Its charm is undeniable - within the stone ramparts you'll find whitewashed houses with bright blue shutters, art galleries and wood workshops. This laid-back artists' town is a former Portuguese trading colony and was once home to sizeable British and Jewish populations. The town faces a group of rocky islands - called the Mogador - and is surrounded by an expanse of sandy beaches and dunes.

It's still a busy fishing port and it’s pretty harbour is filled with tiny colourful boats which go out early every morning for the day's catch. Visitors who have been seduced by its charms include Orson Welles and Jimi Hendrix, who (according to local legend) spent much of his time here in the 1960s. More recently, filmmaker Ridley Scott chose the ramparts as an important location for his film, Kingdom of Heaven.

Join our local guide for a walking tour through the old Medina, Jewish mellah, port and skala (sea wall). You have some free time to soak up the romantic ambience.

Everything in the small centre is within walking distance and the beach is clean. Wander the harbour and its adjacent fish markets where you can witness the daily auction. A freshly-cooked plate of the day's catch is highly recommended. Browse the plentiful shops and intriguing art galleries that make this little town a particularly pleasant place to unwind for a few days. It has a growing reputation for its unique art and is becoming even more famous for its burled Thuya wood - delicately formed and inlaid in tiny shops, which are built into the thick walls of the Portuguese ramparts. The scent from the oils used to polish the richly coloured wood permeates the air and makes walking down the streets incredibly pleasant.

Essaouira is a world-famous windsurfing destination. Give it go or you may like to try your hand at the increasingly popular sport of kite surfing.

Don't miss the opportunity to go to a hammam or local-style bath to be spoilt with a good scrub, a mud pack and a relaxing massage with argan oil.

Included Activities

• Walking tour
 

Day 9: Travel to Marrakech
On day 9 the morning is free for further exploration around Essaouria. In the early afternoon we will catch a comfortable local bus to Marrakech (approx 3 hrs), where we will check in to our riad.
 

Day 10 & 11: Marrakech
Even today, the name conjures up images of scenes from the Arabian Nights: alleyways, souks, stalls and markets. This remarkable city, dating from the 11th century, never fails to satisfy the curiosity of adventurous travellers. It has everything from the graceful architecture of the renowned Koutoubia Minaret, which dominates the skyline, to the wonderful throbbing atmosphere of a medieval fair in the great open square, the Djemaa el-Fna, at the heart of the medina.

We have two days to explore and photograph this famous city. On day 10 a 2 hour guided tour is included. This will take us down to the leather pits, where leather is cured and dyed in the traditional way, as it has been for generations.

 

Day 12: Tour ends
The tour ends after breakfast, and you are free to leave at any time, or contact Intrepid to arrange an extra night or two in this fascinating and entrancing city.

 

Notes on the tour

Itinerary:
Any tour is a balance between seeing as much as possible, and also having enough time to explore and take pictures. I believe that we have struck the best balance with this itinerary. There are many times where we will have free time, so you are free to explore and photograph on your own. I try to keep compulsory sunrises to a minimum, but there will be plenty of chances for those who are keen to make an early start!

I have tried to ensure that we manage to have the chance of a sunrise or sunset in all of the most important places, but sometimes we will have to photograph things during the day - at the wrong times. This is mainly the case when we are in transit. This is just a part of trying to see so much: if we were to photograph everything at the optimum times, then the trip would have to be about three or four times longer!
 

Portraits in Morocco:
It is worth bearing in mind that Morocco is not as easy a place to shoot portraits as it used to be. People can be quite paranoid about being photographed - especially if you don't ask permission. You are advised not to try to 'steal' pictures and to ask people. Not only is this a courtesy, that I believe will help you to secure better, more engaged pictures, it can avoid unpleasantness.

It is perfectly possible to shoot some amazing portraits in Morocco, and I will be on hand to advise as to when and how to ask. Very soon in the trip, I will hold an illustrated talk showing my technique for approaching people and how to get the best shots.

 

Tuition:
Throughout the trip I will hold a series of illustrated talks and group review sessions to try to help people to learn as much as possible on the trip, and also to come away with the best pictures possible. We will have some group sessions - notably on exposure and also on shooting star trails. I am always available if anyone has a question about photography and am always happy to look at pictures if you want a personal review. Please be aware that you will generally get out of this trip what you are prepared to put into it, especially with the review sessions.

 

Single supplement:
The single supplement is not available in the Ait Benhaddhou guesthouse, or in the desert camp. This means that people will have to share a room on these nights. Please also note that sometimes the single rooms are smaller than double rooms - especially in riads when many of the rooms will vary in size and quality. In general, we will try to balance everything out wherever possible, but sometimes the best rooms in the riads have double beds: twin and single rooms might not be as luxurious.

Printable version of itinerary

Included in the trip price

11 nights hotel/guesthouse accommodation

9 breakfasts & 1 dinner

All transport as per itinerary

• Bucharest guided walking tour

• Bucharest Parliament entry

Museum of Romanian Peasant

• Tsarevets Fortress entrance

Sofia orientation walk

• Rila Monastery entrance

• Belitsa Bear Sanctuary

• Plovdiv guided walk

• Roman amphitheatre entrance

• Pre-trip Facebook group to meet other group members

• Experienced Intrepid leader

Expert photographic tuition

Impressions of Eastern Europe itinerary

 

Day 1-2: Bucharest
Alo! Welcome to Romania

Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6:00pm on Day 1. You can arrive at any time during the day as there are no activities planned until this important meeting; please check with the hotel reception where and when it will take place, or check the reception notice boards. If you can't arrange a flight that will have you arrive at the hotel by early evening, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).

A place of mythic legends and dark tales, modern-day Romania impresses with its fine collection of ancient monasteries, age-old churches and character-filled castles. But it's the unexpected delights that also shine bright. Majestic mountains, forests made for hiking, a sophisticated capital brimming with architectural beauty and chic coastal resorts ensure Romania has plenty of aces up its sleeve.

Free from the shackles of the Cold War-era, Eastern Europe is overflowing with unique, elegant cities and societies with a storied past and a bright future. From the ornate to the medieval, the romantic to the bizarre, Eastern Europe is a buzzing hive of art and culture that is sure to impress.

Bucharest, Romania's beautiful capital city, likes big things. It's home to one of Europe's biggest squares and its enormous Palace of Parliament is the second largest building in the world.

Take a guided tour of Romania's beautiful capital city. Bucharest likes big things and we'll stop by the huge Piata Unirii, one of Europe's largest squares. Also see the 'Ceausima', the enormous 12-storey Palace of Parliament, the second largest building in the world (behind the Pentagon).

Included Activities

Bucharest - Guided walking tour
Parliament entry
Museum of the Romanian Peasant

 

Day 3-4: Veliko Tarnovo
Today it is time to bid farewell to Romania and catch a train to the border. As you cross the majestic Danube river, you are entering Bulgaria. Once the border formalities are completed at Ruse, you will head to the town of Veliko Tarnovo. Once the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, it now is a picturesque town, set against the dramatic backdrop of the surrounding mountains.

The most famous sight of the town is Tsarevets Fortress, situated on a hill on the edge of the town. There is evidence of human presence since the 2nd millennium BC, but really become prominent during the reign of the Asens.

Included activities:
• Tsarevets Entrance
• Orientation Walk (leader led)

 

Day 5: Sofia
Leaving the scenic mountains behind, we will travel to Bulgaria's capital, Sofia. Sofia is an ever-growing and cosmopolitan city with wide tree-lined boulevards and pleasant parks.

Enjoy a walk through the city and pass some of its most striking buildings, perhaps none more impressive than the gold-domed Alexander Nevski Church which dates back to 1912 and was built as a memorial to the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgarian independence during the Russo-Turkey war (1877-1878).

Other impressive buildings include St Nikolai Russian Church, Sveta Nedelya Cathedral and Banya Bashi Mosque, a reminder of years of Turkish rule. At night, the city comes alive with interesting bars and nightclubs.

Included Activities:
• Sofia Orientation Walk (leader led)

 

Day 6: Gorno Draglishte
Take a short bus ride to Rila, to explore the most important of the orthodox monasteries in Bulgaria. This World Heritage-listed site is the largest, holiest and most impressive of Bulgaria's monasteries, hidden away in a narrow and forested valley. Founded in 927 by Ivan Rilski, a leader of a monastic colony of hermits, the monastery helped keep Bulgarian spiritual and social life alive during centuries of Turkish rule. The monastery's most treasured historic and artistic monuments include the 14th century Hrelyo Tower, the five-domed Birth of the Blessed Virgin church and the original monastery kitchen from the 19th century.

Transfer to the small mountain village of Gorno Draglishte. The small mountain village of Gorno Draglishte is home to a delightful community of warm and welcoming people, a rich cultural heritage and delicious home-cooked food.

Stay at our local friend's guesthouse. Here we have the chance to learn all about traditional weaving. Our guesthouse accommodation is simple and not all rooms have en suite, but the atmosphere is welcoming and warm and experience Bulgarian cuisine for dinner.

Included Activities
• Gorno Draglishte - Rila Monastery

 

Day 7-8: Bansko
Travel to the small town of Bansko.

Set at the bottom of the majestic Pirin Mountains, Bansko is home to more than 150 cultural monuments and many of its stone houses have been transformed into charming 'mehanes' (taverns).

In the evening, we have an opportunity to indulge in some local cuisine. Try some filet elena (spicy cured meat) or kapama (simmered meat, rice and sauerkraut), and wash it down with some delicious melnik (dark red wine).

And if you have the time, you could stretch your legs with a hike up the mountains, home to some crystal-clear lakes, jagged peaks and pine-forested alpine scenery.

Included Activities:
Belitsa Bear Sanctuary

 

Day 9: Plovdiv
Travel by private transport from Bankso to Plovdiv (approx 3hrs30mins).

Situated on the Maritsa River, Plovdiv was once the meeting point of two ancient transportation routes. A picturesque town with many parks, gardens, museums and archaeological monuments, its Old Town features many 18th and 19th-century baroque houses dating from the national revival period. These charming homes sit alongside museums, mosques, galleries and Byzantine ruins.

Join a local guide for a tour of the main sights and some insight into the history of this fascinating town. The most remarkable sight is the magnificent ancient Roman amphitheatre. Built during the 2nd century BC during the reign of Trajanus, the theatre seats about 6000 people. From here, wander up the cobblestone street to the site of Nebet Tepe, a former hilltop fortress, for excellent views of the city before heading downhill to the 15th-century Dzhumaya Mosque, still in use today.

Be sure to take the time to wander about the workshops of the traditional masters of old Bulgarian arts and crafts on Strumna Street - coppersmiths, farriers and potters are all represented.

Included Activities:
Plovdiv - Guided tour Optional Activities

 

Days 10-12: Istanbul:
Travel by private bus to Istanbul from Plovdiv (7hrs). On the way we will stop at Bachkovo monastery where you will be able to visit the famous dining room as well.

You will cross the border into Turkey while travelling from Plovdiv by bus. All travellers travelling to Turkey need to obtain an e-visa before you arrival. All the information required about the e-visa can be found in the following link: https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/

Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents, so it will come as no surprise that this vast metropolis is home to a beguiling mix of different cultures and traditions, blending the influences of both east and west. Originally founded by Greek settlers over 2000 years ago, Istanbul originally went by the name of Byzantium, then Constantinople when the Romans made it the capital of their eastern empire. Today, intriguing Istanbul is a bustling mega-city with a population of over 12 million people and a rich history and food scene waiting to be explored.

The wonderful city of Istanbul has an incredibly rich history, amazing array of architectural styles, a delectable cuisine, vibrant nightlife, fascinating culture and oodles of style. There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.

If you would like to stay longer in Istanbul there are plenty more things to see and do. Don't miss the superb Aya Sofia, the home of beautiful mosaics and an incredible reminder of the city that was once Constantinople. Visit the Archaeology Museum, which contains an incredible array of ancient exhibits - of particular interest are the artefacts from infamous Troy. Head down to the Bosphorus and grab a fresh fish roll for lunch. You could travel over to the stylish Taksim Square area and stroll along the main street with the local hipsters. Visit the atmospheric underground Cistern, a vast underwater storage tank built in 532 AD. If all of this makes you a little tired, then an hour or two spent in a hamam (Turkish bath) will leave you rejuvenated at the end of your journey.

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This tour is organised and led by Steve Davey | The land arrangements are sub-contracted to Intrepid Travel, but the tours don't appear on the Intrepid Travel website | The only way to book is through this site!

Highlights of this trip

Bustling capital of Hanoi

Scenery at Vang Vieng

• Exploring the Mekong Delta

Historic Hoi An

Hilltribe markets at SaPa

• Stunning Halong Bay

Extensive photographic tuition

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Impressions of
Vietnam Itinerary

Day 1: Hanoi
Day 2: Hanoi
Day 3: Ninh Binh
Day 4: Train to SaPa
Day 5: Sapa
Day 6: Bac Ha
Day 7: Train to Hanoi
Day 8: Halong Bay
Day 9: Hoi An
Day 10: Hoi An
Day 11: Hoi An
Day 12: Ho Chi Minh City
Day 13: Can Tho
Day 14: Ho Chi Minh City
Day 15: Tour ends

Included in the trip price

11 nights hotel accommodation

• 1 night overnight cruise

• 2 nights sleeper train

All transport as per itinerary

• 14 breakfasts

• 10 lunches

4 dinners

• Hanoi to Danang flight

• Danang to Ho Chi Minh flight

• SaPa village trek

• Hanoi street food tour

• Tam Coc boat trip

• Hoi An cooking class

• Hoi An town walk

• Mekong Delta sightseeing tour

• Ho Chi Minh city tour

• Entrances as per itinerary

• Pre-trip Facebook group

• Experienced Intrepid leader

Expert photographic tuition

Website, Images and text Steve Davey/stevedavey.com 1990 - 2017

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unforgetPlaces4PCThis tour is led by Steve Davey - a professional photographer, whose work appears in publications all over the world. He is the author of the bestselling Unforgettable Places To See Before You Die (BBC Books). Steve recently published Footprint Travel Photography (Footprint Books), which covers everything that you would ever want to know about travelling with a camera. Click for more.

Land arrangements are sub-contracted to Intrepid Travel, who have many years experience in running small group adventures.

Bookings are made through the Intrepid Special Groups Dept. in the UK not the Intrepid website or agents. Use this link for more information

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Starts: 27 Nov. 2017
Ends: 11 Dec. 2017

Code: IOV17

Price: From 2225 pp
excl. flights, based on

Min 8, max 12 people
Places booked: 0
Trip to be confirmed.

Approx other currencies*:
€ 2510 • US$ 2850

AU$3750 • NZ$3910

Optional single supplement: 395

Estimated current
flight cost 500 - 600

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impressions of vietnam itinerary

Impressions of Vietnam itinerary

 

Day 01 : Arrival in Hanoi
Xin Chao! Welcome to Vietnam!

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is a charming city of about 5 million people, famous for its beautiful lakes, shaded boulevards and public parks. The city centre is an architectural museum piece, its blocks of ochre buildings retaining the air of a provincial French town of the 1930s, contrary to the fast living and bustling air of Saigon. As Vietnam develops to compete with other South East Asian countries, Hanoi's Hoan Kiem Lake reflects the modern office buildings, old Buddhist temples and tangle of ancient streets.

Your group leader will arrange a pre-trip group meeting in the hotel lobby.

After a short briefing by your tour leader you’ll begin a street food tour at the city’s largest covered market, Dong Xuan. Sample delicious Vietnamese cuisine just like the locals do - on the street. Stroll through hidden alleyways and bustling markets of Hanoi’s charming old quarter. Learn more about Hanoi’s unique food culture. Try local specialties with influences from French and Chinese cuisine. Finish the night at the famous beer corner ‘Bia Hoi’.

Included Activities:
Hanoi - Street food tour

Accommodation: May de Ville City Centre or similar – Deluxe room

 

Day 2: Hanoi
Vietnam’s capital is famous for its beautiful lakes, shaded boulevards, public parks and French Old Quarter. As an emerging city in Southeast Asian, Hanoi has an attractive contrast of modern office buildings, old Buddhist temples and a labyrinth of ancient streets.

After your lunch at a local Bun Cha – traditional pork barbecue served with fresh herb, fresh rice noodles and its specific sauce, the very Hanoi food, you'll take a tour through the city. You’ll see Ho Chi Minh’s former stilt house and other icons such as the Temple of Literature. In your free time, perhaps stop by the ’36 Streets’ of the historic Old Quarter, head to the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, or visit the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum. This Museum plays a crucial role in maintaining and promoting the cultural heritage of Vietnam’s ethnic communities.

Included Activities:
Hanoi - Temple of Literature
Hanoi - Old Quarter Tour
Hanoi - One Pillar Pagoda & HCM stilt house

Accommodation: May de Ville City Centre or similar – Deluxe room

Meal Plan: Breakfast & lunch

 

Day 3: Ha Nam & Ninh Binh Provinces
Get ready for a big day! Rise early and depart your hotel by 6am by private vehicle. Drive for approximately 1 hour 30 mins to reach your first stop south of Hanoi city limits. Here you'll sample banh cuon thit nuong for breakfast from a 20 year-old family-run restaurant. Work it off with walk around the stalls of a rustic village market, then stop for a wake-up coffee at a cafe thought to serve up the best cup in the area.

Head to your next destination and learn to make the rare speciality of fermented pork cakes from a family that’s been doing it for three generations. Hit the road again after lunch and visit the Phat Diem church. Walk to a nearby family farm. Pick up a few tips on making rice wine, and perhaps lend a hand to feed their pigs!

Finish the day in Ninh Binh. Ninh Bnh is a province in northern Vietnam's Red River Delta region. The capital, also called Ninh Binh, is a popular destination for exploring the striking, verdant limestone scenery and Cc Phương National Park.

Spend the night in Ninh Binh – to make the most of the great sunset and early morning.

Accommodation: Thuy Anh Hotel or similar – Deluxe room

Meal Plan: Breakfast & lunch

 

Day 4: Ninh Binh – Hanoi - Train to Sapa
Wake up early for sunrise at Tam Coc, which means 3 caves, is a zone of Vietnam that elapses between rice paddies, bathed by the Ngo Dong River punctuated by karstic rock formations and limestone caves. The rock formations, caves, water and landscape have made Tam Coc to know popularly as La Halong Bay on land. Drive to the Trang An eco-tourism complex the UNESCO-listed & Trang An Landscape Complex, a spectacular region of verdant limestone karst peaks punctuated by partly submerged valleys.

Enjoy a cruise through this striking scenery, passing temples, paddy fields and villages. Return to Hanoi by midday, where you’ll board the overnight sleeper train for Lao Cai (departing approximately 9.30pm, approximately 8 hours journey time).

Included Activities: Halong Bay - Trang An Landscape Cruise

Accommodation: Overnight sleeper train (1 night) – 4 Berths cabin

Special Information: Conditions aboard the train are basic, and while cleanliness might not be what you're used to, overnight trains are a truly Viet Nam experience and the best way to travel long distances with the locals. Sleeper trains typically have four berth compartments of which two are bench seats that convert into sleeping bunks. A sheet, pillow and blanket are provided, although some travelers prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. You will be sharing with local travelers.

Most trains have a dining carriage serving simple food, but some travelers take the opportunity to stock up snacks if you would like any for the overnight journey, or early breakfast.

Meal Plan: Breakfast & lunch

 

Day 5: Sapa
After waving goodbye to Hanoi city the previous night, wake up to the lush, green valleys of Sapa (07.00 approx.). Northwest Vietnam is a resplendent fusion of majestic mountains, clean country air and rainbow-clad locals. Today we will be introduced to Sapa’s emerald green valleys on a snail-paced hiking trip. We’ll explore shimmering rice paddies, bamboo forests, waterfalls, and enjoy a hearty home-made lunch courtesy of one of the local Giay families. After that, you will be heading to Sapa town for the night.

Included Activities: Full Day Sapa Villages Trek

Accommodation: Sapa Legend Hotel & Spa or similar (Deluxe room)

Meal Plan: Breakfast & lunch

 

Day 6: Can Cau Market & Bac Ha
As you would expect, the market starts early (around 7.30am) and closes in the early afternoon so you will want to make an early start to get the most out of the experience. (Drive to Can Cau (125 km / 3 hours from Sapa).

Can Cau is a busy market which is held every Saturday. Located next to the Chinese border, it is a colourful, vibrant market where you will encounter ethnic minority people such as the Flower Hmong (Red Hmong), Nung, Phu La and even Chinese people from across the border. All kinds of goods are traded here, from fabric to various types of livestock to the strong local corn wine. After lunch at local restaurant at the centre of Si Ma Cai district. You’ll drive to Hoang Thu Pho waterfall (recommended for rainy season). Have a rest here and enjoy the view of rice terraces. A long road wrap around the mountain slope will take you to Ta Van Chu village to visit the Flower Hmong. You will be mesmerised by the spectacular view of mountains, valleys and cabbage flowers. The colourful dresses of Flower Hmong women hanging on the clothesline look like colourful butterflies on this “White plateau”.

Accommodation: Bac Ha Hotel

Meal Plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 7: Bac Ha Market
Leave early morning for Bac Ha market. Before walking around to visit the market, you will have breakfast at a local restaurant where many ethnic minority people have their breakfast too. Bac Ha market is the biggest ethnic minority market in the Northwest of Vietnam opening once a week every Sunday. In the market, you will meet different ethnic minority groups such as: Nung, Tay, Phu La, Flower Hmong, etc. You will have a chance to discover the differences in culture, customs and ethnic dressing with your Flower Hmong tour guide.

Have lunch at the market, try authentic local food with corn wine. This wine is very strong and is one of the trademarks of Bac Ha.

Afternoon, You will explore Bac Ha town by horse carting. It will take 15 km from Bac Ha town to Na Lo village of the Tay people followed by Thai Giang Pho village of the Flower Hmong people. At Thai Giang Pho village, you will see a big garden of orchid, flowers and fruits. You will take a moment here to enjoy the beautiful views and take photos. The horse cart will proceed to Hoang A Tuong Palace where the King of Hmong people once lived. He was from the Tay ethnic group. Under the support from French colonial masters, Hoang A Tuong rule the region which consists of 70% Hmong. Tour around the palace to see the fusion of Chinese and French architecture and pictures which describe how the people lived in this area. Next stop is a visit of Nung people in Na Kheo village before returning to Ban Pho. You will prepare your luggage and get ready to go to the station.

You will have some free time for an optional dinner before you board the overnight train to Hanoi. Boarding commences approximately 7.30pm for an 8.30 pm departure (journey time approximately 8 hours).

Accommodation: Overnight sleeper train – 4 Berths cabin

Meal Plan: Breakfast & lunch

 

Day 8: Ha Long Bay
Upon arrival in Hanoi, transfer directly to the hotel. A day use room is provided so you can freshen up before your trip to Halong Bay.

After you've freshened up, you'll be picked up at around 8:00 to travel the 3.5 hours to Halong Bay. This is one of Vietnam’s most beautiful places, a secluded bay of emerald waters flecked with sandstone islands and caves. Go on a cruise to explore the rock formations and caves and in the warmer months, go for a swim.

You’ll spend the night on the boat. The sailing junk has twin-share cabins with air-conditioning and private facilities. There's also a dining room and bar where you’ll enjoy all of your meals, including a lavish seafood buffet for lunch.

Included Activities: Halong Bay - Overnight boat cruise

Special Information: It is recommended to pack a smaller overnight bag to take to Halong Bay for ease of boarding and disembarking. You can store your main luggage in Hanoi for tonight.

There are restrictions on the number of boats that are permitted to stay in the bay overnight, sometimes resulting in a shortage. To ensure all Intrepid travelers can enjoy the experience of a night on the water, occasionally you will stay on a larger boat (with approximately 12 cabins) and share your boat with another group. Or your group may be split across different vessels, in which case an Intrepid group leader will be present on each boat, and the route taken and inclusions on board will remain the same.

Accommodation: Overnight boat

Meal Plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 9: Hoi An
Start your day with swimming or yoga on deck, before enjoying breakfast at sunrise looking out to the bay. Drive for about four hours back to Hanoi. Along the way, you’ll stop at Dong Trieu Factory to watch locals creating ceramic art pieces.

Head straight to Hanoi airport to catch a flight to Danang, arriving at 21:00 where you'll be transferred to your hotel in Hoi An. (Note: flight details can change).

Accommodation: Belle Maison Hadana Hoi An Resort and Spa /Deluxe Room with Balcony or similar

Meal Plan: Breakfast & dinner

 

Day 10: Hoi An
Your leader will take you on a walk around the Old Town. The city was a major trading port with the west from the 17th century onwards, and has a various architectural influences from Europe, China and Vietnam. Today the city is being restored and looks exactly like it did over a century ago.

Today you also will learn about central Vietnamese cuisine and how to prepare it using its signature vegetables, herbs and spices. Start at the local market you'll be introduced to a wealth of produce. After purchasing some ingredients, head back to Hoi An for a hands-on lesson in some classic central Vietnamese dishes. You’ll also pick up some cooking and cutting techniques that will put you in good stead to recreate these dishes at home. Then of course it's time to feast on your creations. The rest of today is free for you to pick up any made-to-measure items, or perhaps try more delicious food in one of Hoi An’s many acclaimed restaurants.

The afternoon is free. You can rent a bicycle and take a trip out to the nearby beach. There’s also an optional Urban Adventure including a countryside bike ride and finishing up with a cruise along the Thu Bon River.

Included Activities:
Ancient town walk and entrance ticket
Cooking Class

Accommodation: Belle Maison Hadana Hoi An Resort and Spa /Deluxe Room with Balcony or similar

Meal Plan: Breakfast & lunch

 

Day 11: Hoi An
Enjoy a free day in Hoi An.

If you can muster an early rise this morning, head to the local produce market to watch animated shoppers haggling over fresh fish, spices and vegetables. Your leader can help you arrange an optional Vietnamese cooking course. Perhaps visit the ruins of My Son, Vietnam's most important Cham site. Set in a verdant valley, surrounded by hills and overlooked by the massive Cat's Tooth Mountain, the elaborate World Heritage-listed temples here reflect the rich cultural traditions of the Cham civilisation that flourished in this region between the 4th and 12th century.

Make the most of your last day in Hoi An by doing any activities you couldn’t fit into your schedule yesterday.

Optional Activities:
My Son Cham day trip - USD35
Street Food By Night Urban Adventure - USD28
Hoi An Boat & Bike Urban Adventure - USD51

Accommodation: Belle Maison Hadana Hoi An Resort and Spa /Deluxe Room with Balcony or similar

Meal Plan: Breakfast

 

Day 12: Ho Chi Minh City
Take the short flight to Ho Chi Minh City (approximately 1 hour). Take a guided tour to get a feel for the city's frenetic, fascinating blend of old and new, East and West. You'll go to the War Museum, GPO and Notre Dame Cathedral, finishing up at one of Vietnam’s most pulsing markets, Ben Thanh.

Included Activities:
War Remnants Museum
Ho Chi Minh City tour
Ben Thanh market

Accommodation: Bay Hotel Ho Chi Minh or Similar – Deluxe City View

Meal Plan: Breakfast

 

Day 13: Mekong Delta - Can Tho
Traveling to the Mekong Delta and visit unexplored Cai Be where coconut is everything and anything. The fertile delta is famous for its abundant harvests of tropical fruits and flowers. On arrival, board your private boat and will start with the visit of Cai Be floating market.

We’ll come to Tn Phong island, where you can walk on village paths and see the local farms & houses. Here you will have the opportunity to see farmers picking their fruits on the ancestral ways, how the locals make rice-net for spring-rolls, sew coconut-leaves for cottage roofs and specially see how they weave the dried water-hyacynth to make many products: such as baskets, bags, hats, wallets, shoes.

After lunch, the rowing boat will take you deeper into the countryside on smaller canals and to enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

Finally head to the Vinh Long province, here you will have a chance to ramble on tides and walk in the natural green of fresh orchards. Boats and rafts become the main and common transportation in this area. Going by boats on the river to enjoy fresh air and harmonizing yourselves with the heaven beauty in the relaxing mind. After lunch, you will transfer to Can Tho - a city in southern Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region. Set on the southern bank of the Hau River, it’s known for its canal network and nearby floating markets.

Included Activities: Mekong Delta - Sightseeing tour

Accommodation: Victoria Can Tho hotel or similar

Meal Plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 14: Ho Chi Minh City
Theres an early morning start today with a boat trip to the Cai Rang floating market. Slowly weave between the merchant boats, nice photos with moments of the colours & busy trading on the Floating market. Enjoy local foods and cruise along the river & small nature waterways to see the simple life inside the Mekong Delta. Stop for lunch at local restaurant before returning back to HCM in the evening.

Included Activities:
Floating market boat trip

Accommodation: Bay Hotel Ho Chi Minh or Similar – Deluxe City View

Meal Plan: Breakfast & lunch

 

Day 15: Ho Chi Minh City - tour ends
Today your adventure in Vietnam comes an end. Enjoy your breakfast in the hotel before heading to the airport for your flight back home. Check out time 12:00PM.

Meal Plan: Breakfast

 

 

Note: There is never a perfect time to visit Vietnam, as this long country experiences a number of different weather patterns and monsoons. At the time we have selected, both the north and south of the country should have good weather, but there are likely to be rains in the middle of the country. We will still be spending time in the atmospheric town of Hoi An, but are opting to fly past the city of Hue. Apart from the weather I am no great fan of Hue. The Citadel is largely ruined, and in truth not very photogenic. Hue is a large and sprawling town, without a great deal else to recommend it. Likewise, we are skipping past the coastal resort of Danang - only using it as a base for flights - prefering to spend any extra time exploring in the Mekong Delta.

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